Syrian refugees: Europe and the Gulf

Said Shehata
Monday 28 Sep 2015

Europe cannot solve the problem for Syrian refugees on its own. The Gulf states must do more

Europe is the dream refuge for most displaced Syrians abroad, estimated to number 4 million (women, men and children). Many risk their lives in the Mediterranean Sea and about 3000 have drowned on the dangerous route to Europe and especially to Germany and Sweden.

Another seven million Syrians are displaced inside Syria because of the war. It is a humanitarian disaster which urgently needs a political solution. Countries in the Gulf should take in Syrian refugees instead of putting the whole burden on Europe.

Saudi and Qatar are the two countries in the Gulf who are directly involved in the Syrian conflict. They put obstruct diplomatic efforts to end this long-standing crisis. They insist president Assad should not be part of any solution, complicating the situation and helping to maintain the Syrians’ misery.

I argue that if those two countries feel the pressure of Syrian refugees in their lands, they might change their opinion and speed up the political track to put an end to the bloodshed that has taken more than 250,000 lives. In the meantime they should be exerting themselves to help the desperate Syrian refugees until they can return home.

As for Europe, I think taking in more refugees will not end the misery of Syrians. It should be noted that more than 350,000 refugees entered Europe between Jan and Aug 2015 alone compared with 280,000 in the whole of 2014.

Germany, the dream refuge according to some Syrian refugees I have interviewed in the last few days, is expected to receive 800,000 asylum seekers and refugees. However, the problem is bigger than that. While there are initiatives to help Syrians inside Europe, such as the ‘Refugees Welcome’ website in Berlin, which tries to match migrants and refugees with people willing to take them in, there are concerns inside Europe about that the influx of refugees might negatively affect public services.

David Cameron conceded to pressure by announcing the UK will accepts thousands of refugees from UN camps bordering Syria, but not from the people already in Europe. He also confirmed that Britain would act with its "head and heart" as he pledged to find a political solution.

Europe cannot house all of Syria's refugees and solve the problem, for several reasons.

First, even if we assume Europe can accommodate all Syrian refugees (and it cannot), this might open the door to refugees from other countries to come to Europe, and suddenly they would number unfeasibly many.

In addition, there are some voices amongst politicians and ordinary Europeans which rail against the arrival of refugees in their countries. For example, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban warned that the majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim and might threaten Christian European civilisation. Slovakia also announced they will accept only Christian Syrians.

Moreover, Syrians do not want to leave their history and lands and live as foreigners for the rest of their lives.

The Gulf countries should do more to help Syrians on both the humanitarian and political levels. I should mention the generous donations of Kuwait which exceed $1 billion dollars, and other donations by Gulf countries. But in general they should take their share of refugees on a temporary basis until Syria is stable.

The main responsibility lies in the hands of Saudi and Qatar, key players in the Syrian conflict. They should take Syrians and accommodate them like certain European countries. Once this happens, they will feel the pressure and they will hopefully withdraw their insistence on Assad's removal from peace negotiations.

Assad and other parties are responsible for the horrific scenes of children and women being killed every day in Syria or in the Mediterranean. But we should think politics. There are some initiatives, like the Iranian one, that could bring an end to the crisis. Compromises should be made for the sake of the killed, injured and displaced Syrians. Saudi and Qatar should not be stubborn and should have a conscience to stop more killing and to revive Syria. 

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